One of the many surprises for new guitar building students is how long it REALLY takes to build a guitar.  That prompts the question, “How can I learn to save time and decrease my building time?”  I posed this question to two groups: The Robert O’Brien Guitar Building Forum and the LinkedIn Luthier Built Group. Some answers are obvious, others came from years of experience. A few responses took me by surprise.

From the feedback, I divided the recommendations into four categories that I’ll discuss in a series of posts:

  1. Before You Start
  2. While You Work
  3. Multitasking
  4. Slowing Down

Guitar Kit PartsTake Inventory and Stock Extras

Lots of time is wasted just finding things. First, make sure all of the materials you ordered arrived.  Grabbing materials on the fly is inefficient, bringing you to a halt when something is missing in action. It is no less frustrating to damage a part, such as a bridge, and not have another blank available. I stock extras of inexpensive items, such as nut, saddle and bridge blanks, as well as bindings. I even keep an extra fretboard around. Urgent shipping can cost more than all of those, combined.

Sharpen, Tuned and Clean

Learn how to properly sharpen tools. Most students I have worked with did not initially know how to sharpen chisels and scrapers. They have never experienced cutting wood with truly sharp tools, an experience akin to discovering really good champagne. Dull tools work more slowly and are more likely to cause damage. Rather than slicing through wood fibers, a dull chisel has a tendency to find its way into a grain line and cause tear out.  That can lead to “Plan B” – a repair, which of course adds more time. Keep tools clean and adjusted, ready for work.

Organize the Shop – Tools, Materials, Supplies

Now that you know what you have, get it organized so you know where everything is. If you have drawers, you may want to label them. Until you have built several guitars, you may not remember where everything is. Advancing age doesn’t help, either. Looking for tools at the last minute before gluing is not efficient.

Multiple Stations, Multiple Power Tools

If you can afford the luxury of a roomy shop, put together separate workstations. Setup is probably the most time consuming step in woodworking. Having an area designated for neck tenon cutting, brace gluing or routing binding channels will save time.

Gregoire Fulghum is a lutherie instructor in Colorado.  He says if you can set up dedicated tools, do so. I agree. For example, I own six routers; three are the same laminate trimmer model. One laminate trimmer is used to cut binding channels and another is used for routing the rosette channel. These two routers require custom bases and I  don’t want to readjust them.  The third laminate trimmer is for general use, which can be set up with a quick bit change. I have a Dremel for inlay work and cutting steel string saddle slots. I bought a small, inexpensive bench-top router table and router to cut truss rod slots in the neck. Finally, I have a beefier router to cut the mortise and tenon for steel string guitars.

Find an Incentive

Build for someone. A paying customer is one key to faster building, one of many pieces of advice from Paco Chorobo of Granada, Spain. I find that as I build for a customer, friend or family member, I think about their personality, and their musical interests. I make adjustments as I go because of those thoughts. But, most importantly, I can imagine the new guitar in their hands, which motivates me.

What else would you do before you start? Leave a comment.

Next Issue: While You Work

Denny Brown

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  • Chuck Morrison

    Hi Denny,
    One thing I find helpful is to have certain items pre-cut or pre-made. Things like bridges, lining, blocks even bracing are relatively easy to do in batches and may have little to no effect on the creative buzz we get from designing and building. Sometimes it feels a bit factory like , but that is where efficiency is the most valued and pursued.

  • Denny

    Hello, Chuck
    This is a great suggestion. Do you worry about braces warping while they are on the shelf after being cut?

  • Chuck Morrison

    No, if a brace is going to move after I cut it I’m probably not going to want to use it as it may move after I glue it and do the final shaping. I prefer to have all the woods I use sit in close to final dimension as feaseable for as long as possible.